Love at first sight

Version 2

November 16, 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the day I met my husband. It was a chance meeting. Neither of us was planning to be at the place we met on that particular day. I was standing in line to use the washroom. He was chatting on a payphone (remember those days?). It sounds ridiculous, but our eyes met. And just like that, my life was forever changed.

When we met, I was already mama to a beautiful boy. He and I opened our circle to include one more in our tiny family. Then one wedding and a few years later, we added a daughter into the lovely mix and a year after that, another one. Bliss. This was everything I had ever wanted. 

Twenty years later, I’m still very grateful for that random meeting because the result has become the the epicentre of every single thing I value and love. But like anything worth cherishing for a lifetime, it’s complex and exquisite with parts that are breathtaking, parts that are bruised and parts that are yet to be discovered.

This love of ours has been an adventure from the very beginning and it’s certainly never been boring. We’ve made our way along epic pathways, overcoming obstacles, slaying the occasional dragon and high-five-ing when we’ve arrived at success points. All relationships are multifaceted, no matter how they happen to begin. Ours is woven through with golden moments, complex threads from the lives that came before our meeting and also many everyday ‘what is your problem?’ irritations that do their best to chip away at what’s good. There has been much joy and there has been darkness, loss and debilitating stress. There have been huge wins and also heartbreaking wakeup calls urging us both to do things differently as partners, as parents and as people.

In a weird way, I’m as grateful for the challenges as I am for the gold. They’ve led to many defining moments in my life with my husband. Like Joseph Campbell said, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.” For whatever reasons, the two of us don’t live life skimming the surface, which is too bad, because it looks so peaceful. Nope, we ‘go there’ to the deep, messy, raw and precarious experiences of life that most rational people neatly avoid. Each of us did this before we met and we continue to do it as partners in life, as parents and in our professional and personal endeavours. It’s exhausting and exhilarating but out of it comes the truest sense of trust, tenderness, connection and certainty in who I’ve chosen to love for my lifetime.

‘Love at first sight’ is such a trite phrase, I know. But once in a while, it is just the truth. I’m not sure why, but the guy I met while standing in line for the bathroom in a place I didn’t even intend on being while he chatted on a payphone in the very same place in just as unlikely a scenario … this man was meant to be my partner. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been right. 

Happy 20 years to him. Here’s to many more decades ahead.

Down here on the ocean floor

Ocean

Buoyed by courage, we will rise.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written a blog. Life’s been rather tricky lately, making it hard to pinpoint what I’m for.

Brené Brown, one of my current inspirations, refers to my ‘rather tricky’ as a messy middle, the space where “You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.

Not seeing the light means it’s dark. I don’t love it here. I feel like I’m walking alone on the ocean floor. My ears are rendered deaf by the pressure, my eyes glued shut. Everything down here scares me. My heart races and my stomach twists. Breathing underwater is pretty tough as well.

When I described this feeling recently to an empathetic listener, she encouraged me to stop a minute and open my eyes. Look around. Take a really good look. Get perspective. Stare down those sharks. It’s the only way to gather your resources and figure out what you need to make your way up and toward the shore.

Easier said than done, but I’m trying. I’m afraid of this water and its dark mysteries. Yet, I know that opening my eyes is the only answer. If there’s light beckoning me to the surface, I’ve got to open my eyes to find it. Besides, I can’t hold my breath forever.

There is another light, too. Steady, pulsing beams of it coming from another source: people are sending it directly into this darkness. They encircle us. Their wide-open hearts shoot warm beams of hope into our abyss. Their loving hands extend, ready to carry us upward when we’ve learned what we need to learn down here. I feel the energy of all of this LOVE. I thank them ALL for the waves of good thoughts they offer. I’ve braced myself for judgement, but none comes. If there is any, it doesn’t reach me. It’s neutralized by the enormity of human kindness that winds its way through to steady my vulnerable heart. I will know evermore that Sylvia Rossetti was right – Genuine kindness is no ordinary act, but a rare gift of beauty.

I’m not here alone, so I won’t disrespect the people or the story with details. I do feel compelled to share that things are hard right now. I feel like it’s ok, because maybe things are hard for you, too. Maybe you’re in your own abyss. Maybe knowing that I am, too, will bring you comfort. 

We can hug it out on the other side. We’ll high-five each other for having the courage to open our eyes under water. Having shared the truth of our stories, maybe we can empower each other to feel a little stronger, a little braver and a little more courageous when the next ‘messy middle’ inevitably presents itself again. 

And together, buoyed by this courage, we will rise.

woman of a certain age 2 (thoughts on being 50)

I made a promise to myself around this time last year that I would not allow negative stereotypes about being a middle-aged mama frame my future revolutions around the sun. I can say that promise felt 100% doable on the day that I turned 50. And not so easy in the year I spent actually being 50.

I’ve had to work harder than I’d thought I would at keeping this promise to myself in the past year. Societal ageism has snaked around the corner in unexpected ways despite my determination to smite that nasty little sucker. My own biology waged war on me for months. My natural Pisces sensitivity morphed into rapid-fire crankiness at the strangest times. My usual ‘live and let live’ demeanour was stealth-shadowed by a ‘come at me, bro’ attitude, followed by a chaser of regret/fear that I wasn’t ‘nice’ anymore. I was also surprised to experience with some intensity the growing perception that I was quickly moving into past-my-prime time.

All of this in a year? Yup. It’s been an interesting journey. It was a struggle at times to keep my head above it, to find the silver linings. Now – at 51 – I can look back and recognize a few lessons I’ve (re)(re)(re)learned during my year of being 50.

1. Don’t go there.
I believe that we teach people how to treat us. So when I make fun of my various wrinkles, achy joints, flabby this and greying that, I am telling people that it’s okay to laugh at my vulnerability. So I’m really trying not to go there because it just sets me up to feel shame. Instead, I’ve been working on the self-affirming practice of taking a like in the mirror. When it works, it’s a beautiful thing.

2. Go ahead and wear purple. Add some pig tails while you’re at it.
Jenny Joseph wrote a poem a while back called Warning that included a great line about wearing purple and rocking red hats. What has this meant for me in the past year of ‘being 50’?  To stop wasting time on what I think other people might be thinking. ’Cause they’re probably not thinking anything at all. If they are, I try to practice #4 below.

3. Protect this house.
This is what happens at middle age’. More than one health-care practitioner said this to me with great sympathy in the past year. The implication is that I need to accept that there will be a train of ailments chugging by, doling out arthritis, osteoporosis, frozen shoulders, failing vision, hotter flashes, mood swings, weight gain, etc. Gah. Get OUT of here. You won’t see me waving the white flag. Geez, I’m only 50! I can live vibrantly. I will exercise, eat well, hydrate and push myself out of my comfort zone. Not while I can, but because I can.

4. Let.It.Go.
I simply do not want to ruminate on things that I can’t control or that truly have nothing to do with me. So I’m working on practicing loving detachment every day and in every part of my life. Let it Be (thank you, Beatles) and Let it Go (thank you, Frozen) are mini-mantras that remind me to focus on what matters and, more importantly, to be a better version of myself.

5. Shoulda-coulda-woulda can take a hike.
There’s very likely more road behind me than what lies ahead. This caused me to feel THE PANIC rise around all of the things I could/should/would have done with all of that lovely road. Gentle self-reflection has (re)assured me that regret of this kind is pointless. Who knows what’s ahead? In the absence of a crystal ball, I might as well believe that it’s going to be sweet.

The most important truth that has come to me is that happiness is an active choice. It isn’t waiting for me to arrive at a certain age. It’s something I get to choose every day. It’s something I want to choose every day. It’s what I’m for, always.

she to we to me

While there are times when I need a pretty good nudge to see the best in my kids, on the balance of my days, they positively delight me. Some days, they absolutely blow me away. Such was the case for me this past weekend with my youngest offspring.

She started at a new school this year – a change that has been remarkably good for her. Even still, she is missing lots of things about her former school. One of those things is the ‘Me to We’ program that she participated in for 3 years. Her new school doesn’t offer this program. To her credit, she’s been trying to find other ways to stay involved with Me to We. In particular, she has developed a burning desire to attend the annual event called We Day.

I  know she’s been giving it a lot of thought, but I really had no idea how much. And this is where my mind was blown. Without asking for my help, she sat down and wrote an email to send to the organizers of the event, expressing her desire to be a part of it. I was aware that she was working on it for the better part of the day but decided to leave her alone and let it simply be hers. When she finally showed it to me and asked for permission to press ‘send’, she got an immediate thumbs-up from her teary-eyed Mama. I’m proud of this kid every day because she’s an awesome human being. But this email she wrote is too sweet not to share. Here goes:

To: info@freethechildren.com
Re: 
Reflections on and hopes for We Day by an 11 year old fan

Dear We Day Team,

Hi! my name is … I am turning 12 years old exactly 17 days after We day, and I love Me To We and doing what I can to make this world a better place. About 3 years ago I joined a school club that focused on different issues across the world such as hunger, child labour, poverty and many more that I want to help put a end to. We had the chance to address certain issues by taking on certain projects and then studying them to share what we have learned about the issue. Some people did projects like girls education, or free the children, and others did projects to raise money to build wells in Africa. And I decided to do Local Poverty. Of course I wanted to do something like building wells or helping raise awareness for girls and their education, but to get there I needed to start small. I didn’t have much hope because I was just one little girl trying to do something for local poverty. 

So I sat and I thought. I thought for along time. I thought about the struggles people must have. How they must miss their homes and their families. And for the people that can barely pay for food and for their homes, I can’t imagine how it must feel.

About a month later, the teacher who ran the club read the other kids and I a blog written by a woman who’s life just seemed impossible to live with. The first blog post was the woman telling us that it was April and the last time she had been to the grocery store was in February. She was a single mom who had two kids and could barely afford for her house. In the second blog post she described how embarrassing it felt for her to be in a food bank collecting food. This was hard for me to think of, because my family and I visit the grocery store weekly. And for someone else that hasn’t been to a grocery store in 3 months … this did not feel right at all. 

And then I realized, this was what I was looking for in my heart, to connect that final piece and to understand that feeling and to get my mind in the right place. This was when I knew that I had to do what I could put an end to this issue. Up until this year I continued to be in the club. I would be ready for every single meeting. My mom, before I was born and it was just her and my brother, she had a hard time affording things like his back to school supplies, or new clothes. So, when we were buying my back to school supplies this year, she was telling me the stories of when her and my brother would go shopping that it was hard to afford, it reminded me that this wasn’t only for people like my mom who had struggled, but for many other families too.

Every year, the grade 6 class gets to go and attend We day. I have been looking forward to doing that since I first joined Me to We in grade 3. I switched schools this year, and sadly at this school we don’t have a Me To We club. I plan to talk to some of my teachers about starting one and when that would take place. I searched up how to get We Day tickets and it told me that you can’t buy tickets, you earn them through service. I talked to my mom about it, and she said that I should try and tell you my story and about how passionate I am about Me to We. I would like to attend We day this year. It would be amazing and a dream come true if I could come and hear all the speakers and their stories. If there is any way I could do something to show you that I am devoted and how much I respect and look up to Me To We, and how much I would be honoured if I could come and be a part of that day. 

I just want to thank you for opening my eyes. For showing me the way, and how to help who needs it the most. Me to We does something more than help people, it changes people. It shows them a way to live fair, respectful, and to do what you love to do. You help show the world that instead of looking at someone’s plate and wondering if that person has more than yourself, it’s much kinder and more helpful to look at a someones plate and wonder if they have enough. It’s like looking at a glass half full, not half empty. You create idealists, with thoughts of what is right. You also create optimists, to help people look for the best in everything. Without you, I would just be a lonely realist, thinking that my goals in life are impossible with no hope. You help people’s dreams to help become reality. Without you, lots of people wouldn’t be as devoted to helping others and knowing about the issues. We wouldn’t have the dreamers living their dreams no matter how impossible they seem. No matter the challenge, no matter the journey, no matter the pain, everything has a silver-lining. 

The response. Less than 24 hours later from the We Day team:

Hi there,

Thank you very much for the note and for sharing your story with us. We would love to have you attend a We Day event this Fall. Can you please let me know where you are located so we can provide tickets for a city nearby?

In my journey as a parent, I’m exceedingly clear on what I’m for. And that is to raise our kids to be decent people who respect others, live with compassion, practice empathy and go for their dreams. This email written by my daughter … well, I’m for all of it. And I’m for her engaging with the world in a way that ‘instead of looking at someone’s plate and wondering if that person has more than yourself, it’s much kinder and more helpful to look at a someone’s plate and wonder if they have enough.’

My heart is full. What more could a mama hope for from her almost 12-year-old kid?

the box of cards

Depending on our pack-rat personality type, most of us hold on to one thing or another that binds us to the miles we’ve travelled so far. As a sentimental human, there are a number of these things for me. Among these are some of the cards and notes I‘ve been given over the years, saved because they stirred something in me at the time I received them.

They sit in a box on a high shelf in my closet. A few times a year, I open the lid and add a few more. The odd thing is that I don’t look at them very often. They just sit there. A patchwork heartbeat stitched together by my history.

A couple of months ago, for reasons I can’t even recall, I decided to go through the box of cards. What I thought would take an hour filled instead the better part of an afternoon. I looked through beautiful Crayola renderings of ‘me’ through the eyes of children I’d taught. I read notes of gratitude from parents, people I’ve worked or performed with. I looked at love-notes I’d saved from years gone by, including the very first letter I’d received from the man who would later become my husband. I re-read words from friends inside carefully chosen cards.  – many of whom are still in my life and many of whom I have lost touch with – sharing laughter during good times, lifting my spirits during difficult times and offering their appreciation for our connectedness.

I relived my children’s youngest years through mother’s day and birthday cards and precious notes and artwork they’d spontaneously created for me. I found letters written by my sister that chronicle the sweetness of our relationship. I read notes from my brother and my mother, my nieces and my nephews. And felt a twist of sadness as I rediscovered gems from my father and two brothers, all of whom who are no longer living.

It was a tender afternoon of remembrance. As you might expect, I laughed, cried and sighed with gratitude as I travelled this hand-written road map of my heart’s history, so grateful for the wisdom that had guided me to keep all of this.

But it was as I was putting the cards away that an odd grace descended. A mental Venn diagram began to form, the words from the cards overlapping in a most affirming way, painting a picture I recognized as good, kind and wise. Loved. Loveable. And I thought, ‘Huh. Maybe all of those qualities are actually what people see in me.

I don’t have a negative self-image but I wouldn’t say that’s always been true. Faced with nine compliments and one negative comment, I’ve always felt a magnetic pull to believe the negative to be true. About myself. Not others. Isn’t that weird? Who would stand before nine glorious bouquets and one offering of judgment-yuck and choose the judgment? I would. I did for years. I believed the bouquets were false niceties and that the ‘yuck’ was the true reflection of how the world saw me.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. We all have our personal challenges. Thinking the worst about myself has been part of mine. I squelched genuine feelings of self-confidence for years. It was my choice, but to be fair, I did have some ‘encouragement’ to do so along the way. Over the years I’ve gradually shed that self-deprecating skin and grown increasingly comfortable with just being who I am. A decidedly quirky gal just doing her best to live a full and whole-hearted life.

What does all of this have to do with a box of cards? My afternoon of sifting through 20 years of hand-written memories provided me with a piece of my puzzle I didn’t know I was looking for. Sitting amongst a small personal sea of kind words, I felt a new wisdom lock itself into place. Here is it:

Since I get to choose what I believe to be true about myself, why not align with the good stuff rather than the … well … other stuff.

Even from a sheer statistical perspective, this wisdom makes sense. The cards provided me with prevailing evidence that I am and have always been pretty ok. I’m not asking you to agree with me. It’s alright if you don’t. The power for me here at long last isn’t about what others think. The power lies in the choice. When some event/person produces a feeling of judgment (perceived or real) about who I am, how I approach my life or what I do, I can circle back to my box of cards and have my self-worth affirmed by the evidence that I choose to believe is the real McCoy.

Let the clouds part. Let the trumpets sound and the angels sing. What an exquisitely simple truth.

Here’s the other thing that has really moved me about this box of cards:

Don’t hold back on words of praise, written or spoken. They hold so much power.  Clearly, however (in my case at least), it takes a continual expression of kind words to penetrate the thick and insidious skin of self-doubt.

I want my words to be among someone’s ‘box of cards’ that s/he takes from a high shelf in her/his closet one winter afternoon. I want my praise and appreciation to be part of a person stepping into a knowing that s/he, too, is good, kind, wise, loveable and loved.

This is what I’m for. Seeing the best in myself. Seeing the best in others. And saying it all out loud. Because it matters.

Psst …A few weeks after reading my box of cards and roughing this blog entry together, I turned 50 years young. In typical goof-ball fashion, dubbed myself ‘KFiddy’ – a shout-out to Caucasian, middle-aged mini-van driving wanna-be-gangsta mothers around the globe. A joke that I continue to find hysterically funny.

As a gift, my husband asked people to use a ‘digital pen’ to write birthday wishes to me in a blog he and one of my lovely friends created for me. This will forever more be my digital box of cards. You don’t have to read it … but if you’d like to, check it out here. Kfiddy.com.

Word.

 

woman of a certain age (thoughts on turning 50)

So I am 3 weeks shy of wrapping up my fourth decade.  Yup. I am turning the big five-oh. Big deal. I’m not bothered by the idea of ‘getting older’. I don’t look back and wish I was younger or that I’d made more of my youth. As far as I’m concerned I’m still youthful. So is my mom. And she’s 78.

There is something about approaching this milestone that does bother me, though: other women who are also approaching this milestone who aren’t happy about it. This sounds aggressive, so please let me explain.

There seem to be two primary schools of thought on ‘getting older’ among my female compadres: the school that finds incredulous hilarity in chin-hairs, bifocals and hot flashes and the school that shrouds the whole experience in shame.

I am mostly closely aligned with the former group. In fact, at my ‘book club’ we are far more likely to share side-splitting stories about our various girly-journeys than we are to talk about the book we’ve chosen. Even the gals in their 20’s and 30’s pee their pants a little at how funny life can be when you’re approaching 50.  Which tells me that a leaky bladder is more about a good laugh than it is about aging. Turning 50 is the farthest thing from tragic and planets away from shame.

But more and more frequently, I find myself being sent not-so-subtle invitations to adopt a more fatalistic view on ‘getting older’. While I might (maybe) expect that of someone much younger who has yet to hone his/her sensitivity chip, I find it mind-blowing when other ‘women my age’ include me in their passive-aggressive, ageist insults. Here are some recent examples.

I was making a purchase but couldn’t find my debit card. Flustered, I pulled out a different card, muttering something about being disorganized. The gal processing my order smiled sweetly and said, ‘It’s hard getting older, isn’t it? We’re just losing our marbles.’ We? Getting older? Marbles? No. I just left my debit card in my car.

I was doing a little shopping in a clothing store. I happened to look up and caught the eye of a woman on the other side of the rack. I smiled. She smiled back. It was all perfectly pleasant until she said, ‘Look at us. Shopping for old-lady clothes.’  WHAT? First of all, what are old lady clothes? And second of all … well, there are no words, really. What a ridiculous thing to say.

I went to a  birthday gathering for a friend. She might be mid-50s. I don’t know. Who cares? She was talking about how hard it is to be getting older. I was listening sympathetically as she listed her aches, pains and general ailments. The sympathy came to a screeching halt when she told me to prepare myself for the worst of it: ‘After you turn 50, you pretty much disappear as a woman. It’s like you become irrelevant.’ She punctuated her story with a laugh. While I am deeply sorry that this has been her experience, I don’t really believe that as of March 11th, 2014 I will cease to be interesting or visible to the entire world.

I was having lunch with my beautiful pre-teen daughters. A woman at a near-by table mentioned how lovely they were. I smiled in agreement and then froze as she added: ‘You’d better enjoy them now before all of your various hormones kick in.’ All of our various hormones kick in? Nice. I looked back at her with my most emotionless ‘passport face’. But inside I seethed with hurt and humiliation. Why was it necessary for her to say that to me?

I’ve left my favourite to the last. Hold on to your hats because you’re going to love this one.

At the close of a recent public event that I happened to be leading, a member of the audience waited around to talk with me. She was complimentary about the event and thanked me, etc. Then just before walking away, almost as an afterthought, she lobbed this my way: “Hey, you look really pretty in that dress. Quite sexy, actually. I thought you might like to know that. Because women of our age don’t get complimented on our looks very often any more.’ Ummmmm. Seriously? Wow. She hit her target because I swam around in self-doubt for days after that conversation.

In spite of these beseeching invitations to approach ‘middle age’ with fear and shame-cloaked stereotypes, I’m not gonna do it. Because it is NOT what I’m for.  Allowing other women’s negative experiences to frame my journey into ‘middle age’ makes me feel small and fearful of the future. It makes me uncertain of my role as a woman, a professional, a wife and a mother. I reject the stereotypes completetely. In fact, I heartily fling them into the abyss. Good riddance.

I am going to approach fifty with joy and aplomb – with glee, even. Yes, I know  I’ll have a growing number of chin hairs to pluck but time isn’t my enemy as a woman. It may give my body the patina of age, but all of the experiences that will carry me into my fifth decade have made my mind richer, my heart warmer and my view of my fellow humans much gentler.

Way (way) back in the day when I was a mere 39 years old  (a pup really) I read this quote by Carol Matthau in an ‘O Magazine’: ‘There is no old age. There is, as there always was, just you.’

Yup. I am just me. I am exactly what I need to be – chin hair, bifocals, hot flashes and all. And that is what I’m for in every decade. Well maybe not the chin hair, etc. But being ‘me’ isn’t such a bad deal, whatever age I happen to be.